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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rock and Roll Literacy, written by Sigmund Brouwer. Orca, 2011. $19.95 professional reading

"In my ideal educational world, stories would be graded this way: 70 percent on story, 20 percent on word choice, and 10 percent on appearance. And in my ideal world, students would choose one out of five stories to revise. The other four are just for fun, and the fifth is revised because someone else is going to read it."

Why not? Is that real world learning and teaching? Isn't that what we want for our own children, and for our students? Not much sense in doing all of our learning for anyone but ourselves. We take what fits, use it for our lives and end up loving learning.

Sigmund Brouwer wants kids to be engaged readers and writers. That will hold them in good stead throughout their whole lives, not just while they are at school.
His "Rock and Roll Literacy" seminars have many fans...the book begins with thanks from many of those places that he has visited. He uses short stories and humor to bring some of his experiences to the writing of this book.

He separates the text into four parts: Understand Story, Teach Story, Write Story and Revise Story. Then, he uses each part to explore the concept of 'story'. He believes that:

"Story is everything.
I don't mean plot. I mean the entire package: plot, setting, character, motivation, dialogue, theme. Fiction or nonfiction.
I mean story as in STORY.
We are human because we tell stories. Telling stories makes us human."

Our stories make connections, for our children, our students, ourselves. We need to let young writers tell their stories. The only way they can do that is with time to write, write, write. There is a lot of guidance here for helping them to find their own stories and to write them down. At the end of this first part, the author provides a simple way to keep story in mind with R-R-R...the Right story at the Right time for the Right audience.

In the second part he explains that writing is a complex process and that stories are a part of the writer and need to be handled with care. His personal anecdotes add a depth of feeling that make this point more deeply. He tells about their family orthodontist taking a good part of the visit to listen to a story told by one of the Brouwer daugthers. When asked why, he had an astute and endearing answer: "Sigmund, there is a little girl attached to those teeth."  I want to be in that procession!

He also tells a poignant and memorable story about himself:

"He finished reading my story - I can still vividly see his face, his long curly hair, his thin nose and round glasses - and he stated it was the stupidest thing he had ever read in all his years of teaching."

Did that teacher forget there was a boy attached to that story? I think so. And so does the author. He encourages anyone interested in trying some of the ideas he shares to never forget there are people attached to the stories they's a great lesson!

The final two sections deal with writing the story and then revising it...if it is meant for publication of some kind. He focuses on the 'why' rather than the 'how'. Writing should be fun. I like his 'Hide the thumb' idea...using the hand with four fingers showing and the thumb hidden. The four fingers represent the who, what, where, when of the story. Just as the hand doesn't work without the thumb, a story doesn't work without the why, or the what next. Simple but effective. He talks about how diffcult it is to revise hard work, and stay motivated. He also suggests that the focus should always be on making the writing better, not on what is wrong with it.

In recent workshops with our preservice teachers at Brandon University, Brian Cox suggested using a business model for our teaching...first tell them what they are doing right, then ways they can improve and then offer guidance in making that happen. It is a life lesson to live by, don't you think?

As he comes to the end of this useful and easy-to-read book, I love the line that Sigmund's wife uses when they are talking about the importance of emotion in our stories...'you mean write from the heart, edit from the brain.'

A fitting conclusion to this post.

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